PITTSBORO — An expansive nationwide study has confirmed what Chathamites have long suspected: Pittsboro has some of the worst drinking water in the country.
Last month, Consumer Reports — a non-profit “dedicated to unbiased product testing, investigative journalism (and) consumer-oriented research,” according to its website — concluded a nine-month investigation into water quality across America. The organization partnered with Guardian US, a branch of the British newspaper, to evaluate water quality from 120 locations around the country in a head-to-head comparison.
Almost every sample contained measurable levels of PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a dangerous carcinogen also known to elevate risk of thyroid disease, increase blood cholesterol levels and cause birth defects. But Pittsboro’s PFAS concentration was in a league unto itself.
“I was surprised,” James Rogers, director of food safety testing and research at Consumer Reports, told the News + Record.
“We had a couple other samples that were high, but that was the highest one we had,” he said.
It takes a lot to surprise Rogers, who specializes in pathogenic microbiology and has studied water and food safety for decades. Before joining Consumer Reports four years ago, he worked 18 years as a microbiologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. His career also includes stints with the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, and some time as a professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Still, he didn’t expect to find such high PFAS concentrations in his latest study.
“I didn’t know that you guys had those issues,” he said, “and had been dealing with those issues for so long.”
PFAS concentrations, even dangerous amounts, are undetectable without specialized equipment. Their levels are typically measured in parts per trillion. For context, the CR report points out, a single part per trillion is about the size of one sand grain in an Olympic-sized pool. Albeit infinitesimal, just a few parts per trillion can be of severe detriment to the human body when consumed regularly over several years.
Pittsboro’s water sample contained 80.2 ppt, a staggering concentration, Rogers said.
“Well, let’s look at it this way,” he said. “We’re talking parts per trillion, but we can just talk about the number … Health experts say the level should be all the way down to one. But basically, what we’re seeing in Pittsboro is 80 times the level that health experts say we should be seeing for PFAS in water — 80 times. So that’s really what the issue is.”
The EPA recommends (but does not require) that water contain no more than 70 ppt of PFAS, but that standard is egregious and outmoded, Rogers says. It has endured from a time before much research discovered the seriousness of PFAS ingestion. In 2021, it’s especially frightening given another of PFAS’ grim side effects:…